Student retention and completion are core competencies of AP, to which it devotes a disproportionate amount of resources. These efforts have paid off in the last two years with completion rates most frequently exceeding outcomes in the same programs delivered on campus, often by the same professors. For certain education and nursing programs that require licensure test, pass rates are consistently higher for online students than they are for on-campus students in the same institution.
Completion rates in RN-to-BSN programs are averaging 84 percent among institutions; however, this number is lower than the reality as many nurses periodically lay out for one or more courses but make them up later to complete their BSN. AP’s carousel model allows students to skip courses from time to time and then catch up as their circumstances permit.
AP employs two principal lines of defense against dropouts. First, Student Support Specialists respond to our automated student tracking software. This software monitors each student’s time on task and performance. The strategy is to respond first with automated emails to students who are not performing up to par and those with low activity levels. The system will soon also notify the professor and the academic coach. If performance or activity level does not improve promptly, a retention specialist contacts the student directly.
Student Support Specialists also spearhead campaigns that encourage and support student retention, such as:
- Welcome campaigns for new students.
- Registration campaigns informing students about upcoming registration dates and deadlines.
- Payment reminders.
- Re-engagement campaigns to encourage inactive students to resume their education.
Second, the strategy, which has been highly effective in retaining students, is AP’s coaching model. It became such a critical component of AP’s success that two years ago we made it the full-time focus of a group of specialists.
We spun this critical activity out of AP into a stand-alone non-profit entity called Instructional Connections (IC). IC employs over 300 full- and part-time Master- and Ph.D.-level coaches who mentor students and continuously support faculty. Instructional Connections charges a small per-course fee to university partners for their services.
Thousands of graduates credit their academic coaches with their successful completion of a degree program. Coaches are under the direction of faculty. They do not instruct, but are often asked to grade assignments and to help monitor student performance. The instructor of record remains responsible for course content, leading the course and assigning grades.
AP was the first higher education service company to implement this coaching model, which enables scalability and assures high completion rates. Regional accreditors have carefully evaluated the model and found it innovative and effective.
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